On the Personal Experience of the Catholic Sacraments

The reality of the Catholic Sacraments

Last time, I spoke of the crucial need to clarify and illumine the Living Mystery of the Church. For the Catholic Mystery is ever-more effaced by the currents of the Modern Age, in the post-Protestant countries, above all.

Now, this concern also forms one of several, interlocking themes in my upcoming book [Update 2017 – now published and available here as Cor Jesu Sacratissimum].

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Within the course of my manuscript, I try to approach the Living Mystery of the Church from a variety of different angles. But one of these angles, at least, was fairly unusual and quite difficult. Indeed, it was so much so that I asked myself whether I should excise my stammering efforts to express it from my manuscript.

But truly the need to speak of this Living Catholic Mystery, the Living Organism of the Church appears so pressing to me, so truly urgent, that I am loathe to delete even this odd, tentative effort.

And so it happens that I have not only retained it within the book’s manuscript  – but feature some of it here as a weblog entry below:

I want to suggest more in terms of the interior experience of the Catholic Sacraments. Yet such testimony of personal Sacramental experience is far from easy. Indeed, it seems to me that I may manage to do little more than stammer before these almost indescribable matters.

Still, as I said before, contemplative attention towards the action of the Church in one’s inner life may lead to important, even life-changing, insight.

Certainly, I declare that my own ongoing participation in regular confession and daily communion involves feeling enlivened, succoured, helped in profound, indescribable ways by these Sacraments. I depend on them day-in, day-out.

But there is still more to be found, when one turns one’s attention inward and contemplates one’s inner experience in connexion with the Sacraments.

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At least, it seems to me, that if a person tries to pay careful attention to his internal world, one may notice subtle yet obvious sensations in connexion with the Sacramental life.

Such may become particularly evident when the rhythm of daily Sacraments is broken – for example due to illness.

For if the regular Mass-goer pays inward attention to his own personal life experience while receiving the Catholic Sacraments daily and then compares that with his experience of a few days deprived of the Sacraments, a real difference may become strikingly apparent to him!

At least, this testifies to how I myself have approached the Sacraments for more than a decade now. It is from the inward attention of years that I stammer of these subtle yet clear sensations in regards to the Sacramental life.

Catholic Sacraments personal experience
With my gratitude to BellatorDei for the graphic

For I find myself with a set of subtle, yet repeated, familiar and precious experiences – which are admittedly very hard to name.

Although there have been times when the interior sensation is not so subtle. At times, there has been a distinctly palpable sense of a difference in my soul, even for hours after receiving the Sacraments.

Yet how to convey all this in words? Part of the problem here involves the fact that this delicate Sacramental experience is unlike anything, which I knew outside of the Church.

That is to say, it has no parallels with my life-experience prior the Church, when I lived comfortably and ignorantly in the secular and New Age worlds. And it seems to me that most, if not all people in these worlds may have no parallel to the experience that I struggle to communicate here.

In other words, those who know the Sacraments may understand what I mean; with those who do not know, communication may be impossible.

To risk an analogy, which is all-too-mundane, how would you express the sensation of ‘appleness’ to someone who had never tasted an apple? Perhaps you would say that the apple is sweet; perhaps you might describe a texture that crunches, but nothing you can say will really suffice to explain the true experience of an apple’s taste.

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How much more difficult it is with the subtlety of a Sacrament! The taste of an apple belongs to the external world; it is something entirely mundane by comparison with the Eucharist. One risks impiety even suggesting such a metaphor!

Still however paltry and incommensurable my analogy is, it may perhaps signal something infinitely more profound in the matter of Holy Communion.

Those who regularly receive them, or at least those who pay sufficient attention to their experience, may know whereof I speak. For those who do not, my words will be next to useless.

Still however futile the exercise, I have struggled for years to name the unnameable. Which words to employ, when all words are useless?

But over the years, one word has come to me – a word that seems to me perhaps a little useful. That word is wholesomeness – in the most beautiful sense of that term.  One may feel something subtly wholesome has been added to oneself through the Sacraments.

There is also that word peace.  In the modern liturgy, how banal these words often sound: ‘Peace be with you.’ Yet in the Peace of Christ, there is nothing banal at all …

Yes, one may feel an almost unnameable experience of wholesomeness and peace in receiving the Sacraments. The experience however is very fine and delicate, as I say.

However, one may note that the experience often becomes intensified after the reception of two Sacraments in short succession. Here I speak to the interior experience, which may be felt when Confession is followed directly by Holy Communion.

How often this impression of wholesomeness is distinctly marked then! This feeling of being cleansed by Absolution followed by the wholesomeness of His Flesh and Blood has sometimes been marked for hours afterwards. There have been times of waking the next morning and still feeling its imprint the following day.

Frequently on receiving the Sacraments, there are also important inspirations and insights. One may also feel somehow keener, more alert, particularly after the cleansing and healing of the two Sacraments together.

End of extract from my book.

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8 responses to “On the Personal Experience of the Catholic Sacraments”

  1. Matthew Avatar

    I know exactly what you mean Roger. After Mass I have often felt uplifted and strengthened. It is a subtle feeling which is all too easily missed if you are in a rush, but which can be very nourishing. I find that the sense of peace and wholesomeness can even persist into the week, if I only go on a Sunday, and that the more I devote my will and heart to worship, the more nourishment it provides.

    There are some literary parallels which may provide descriptions for those who have never received the sacrament of the Eucharist. For instance, J.R.R. Tolkien, a Catholic and a daily communicant, has given us the elvish bread called Lembas or waybread in The Lord of the Rings. This is obviously etymologically similar to the viaticum – bread for the journey – here is a description:

    “As for himself, though weary and under a shadow of fear, [Sam] still had some strength left. The lembas had a virtue without which they would long ago have lain down to die. It did not satisfy desire, and at times Sam’s mind was filled with the memories of food, and the longing for simple bread and meats. And yet this waybread of the Elves had a potency that increased as travelers relied on it alone and did not mingle it with other foods. It fed the will, and it gave strength to endure, and to master sinew and limb beyond the measure of mortal kind.” (Return of the King, 262)

  2. Edna N Ramirez Avatar

    Thank you for being our teacher on this subject matter. I enjoyed your own article quite definitely and most of all enjoyed the way in which you handled the aspect I widely known as controversial. You happen to be always quite kind towards readers like me and help me in my life. Thank you.

  3. roger Avatar

    Dear Matthew,

    I was so thrilled with this comment, that I am responding not here, but in an entire post devoted to your thoughts.

    The link for that is here.

    Thank you!

  4. Billy Avatar

    It’s so tremendously affecting to see your love story with Jesus. What you have also said so often is how cold the world has become, how hard people’s hearts have become. 

    It’s like Hans Christian Anderson’s story of The Little Match Girl. She sold matches to make money and had no place to stay. In the end, she lit those matches in an effort to keep warm in the snow and cold, even seeing some beautiful images before finally succumbing. 

    Imagine if someone had instead found the girl, brought her inside a large house filled with all sorts of warmth: comforting fireplace, blankets, food and drink, and most especially people who cared. Maybe that sounds like the kind of ending out of Hollywood. As a human being, she will no doubt suffer in the future. For now, we can rejoice that she has been saved, redeemed. 

    That’s what the Mass and the Sacraments are like for me,  coming into the Lord’s house and out of the bitter cold.  I didn’t even realize how cold I was or how used to being cold, to being hard, I had become. As I thaw out, I can only hope to become softer still, more human. Every time I receive Communion, every time I confess, every time I go to Adoration, I feel like I do and I pray God it’s true and will always be true. 

    1. roger Avatar

      Billy, I apologise to you for how very slow I have been in responding to you and others as well, beleaguered as I am …

      Because really I hardly have words for how moving your comment above has been for me, nor for how important it seems to me.

      It is often noted that converts frequently become the most ardent of all Catholics. And I think it is related to this: We who are converts have lived in the cold.

      A cradle Catholic has never known anything other than this Sacramental Warmth, even if he is only subliminally aware of it. For one can indeed feel warm and not be conscious of it, particularly if one has never known anything other than this warmth.

      An odd, personal adjoining comment: when I first went to Ireland, I encountered an entire population who never knew the coldness I had felt growing up in America and England.

      I thank you for this testimony more deeply than I know how to express in words …

  5. […] As a final note, I will continue from the last sentiment above, by noting that this blog has been very much enriched by comments from people about their Sacramental experience. See for example the very beautiful and moving comments here … […]

  6. Maria Avatar

    +Laudetur Jesus Christus et Ave Maria Regina Mundi Victoriosa+

    God Bless You All!

    It is late at night so i cannot write very much – i just found your beautiful website for the first time, as i was looking up Pellevoisin – the Apparitions of Our Blessed Mother. I would like to recommend for you and your lovely readers to read, the wonderful website about the Traditional Latin Holy Mass, and the New Liturgical Movement – “the reform of the Reform” – one of a growing number of resources on this topic as more and more people (not only Catholics, but soon to be Catholics and new Catholics) are coming Home to the traditional Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/index.html#3102752273503965751

    With regard to the polarization happening within the Holy Church – let us pray for all those who do not know the True Church in Her fullness. Besides this, i would like to express that i am not worried, since “the Gates of Hell shall not prevail” and the “Immaculate Heart of Mary will Triumph.” Thanks be to Our Merciful God Who has been Sending the Star of the New Evangelization, the Immaculate Conception – Mary – to every country in the world over the last many decades, to draw the Remnant to Her Motherly Love and Beauty, and through Her, to the Sacred Heart of Her Divine Son, Jesus, and into His Mystical Body, His Holy Church. Even as there has been a drift away from the True Teachings of our Holy Faith, The New Springtime has Its blooms and shoots sprouting everywhere, with more and more Perpetual Adoration chapels, Rosary groups, prayer vigils, sacrifices in Reparation, and more holy Vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Don’t worry – as Sacred Scripture and Our Lady have Said: when it seems that satan has won – THEN God’s Hand will come down to complete the Purification of the World, and the Era of Peace will be given to the faithful through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Let us pray for those “who do not yet know the Love of God” and offer our sacrifices in union with Our Lord’s Passion in reparation, and to beg graces of conversion for all. Even ONE Soul lost to Hell is an unspeakable tragedy – especially for the All-Loving Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Thank You so much for your wonderful blog/website. God Bless and Keep You!

    In Cordibus Jesu et Mariae

  7. roger Avatar

    Maria, a very belated thank you for your kind words, which I seem to have lost track of. Forgive me …

    St Pio was famed for saying: Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry …

    There is profound wisdom here. I think one must face both the truly beautiful things you invoke here, as well as the wounds to the Church in our day. Facing the latter can be hard – but this is not the same as succumbing to anxiety.

    There is a difference between the two – that is to say between creative confrontation and despair, worry or still worse – ranting …

    God bless you in your beautiful faith, Maria.